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Reimagining Maps

Seminal work on cartographic design reissued

1979 photograph of Arthur H. Robinson

Arthur H. Robinson, University of Wisconsin, Madison, professor emeritus of geography and renowned cartographer, in 1979

Photograph courtesy of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, University Archives

This article as a PDF.

Although the textbook Elements of Cartography is more widely known, Arthur H. Robinson's earlier book The Look of Maps: An Examination of Cartographic Design is of intrinsic and historic interest because it sets out his research agenda for designing maps based on functionality.

Originally published in 1952, The Look of Maps grew out of Robinson's doctoral research. Its essays explore what he termed the three visual components of cartographic technique: lettering, structure, and color, which he writes "encompass most of the aspects of a map capable to evaluation from a visual point of view." Through discussions of these elements, Robinson investigates the relationship between art and science in the application of cartographic techniques.

In this edition, Robinson's classic appears much as it did in its first printing by the University of Wisconsin Press. Readers may be struck by the absence of maps either in or on this book about cartographic design. The omission is deliberate and the reasons for it threefold. Robinson felt illustrations on how to do things would imply a textbook—not the book he wished to write. Also, requesting the use of maps as examples of what not to do would be "likely to inhibit cooperation, to say nothing of friendship." Finally, he firmly believed that scientific special purpose maps should not be examined out of context.

Robinson made substantial contributions to the field of cartography, especially in the area of cartographic education, through his academic career at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, the numerous influential articles and books on cartography that he wrote, and his development of the Robinson projection.

In an epigraph in both the original and current editions, Robinson quotes American geographer William Morris Davis: "It is just as important to study the proper and effective use of various forms of graphic presentation, as it is to study the values of different methods, treatments, grades, and forms of verbal presentation." This quote summarizes not only his purpose in writing The Look of Maps but also Robinson's lifelong goal of applying more objective standards to the design of maps and the communication of geospatial information.

As GIS continues making geography an information framework for organizations, there is an even greater need for effective map design and, hence, for this book. With the reissuance of The Look of Maps, an essential reference on cartography and cartographic design for students and professionals is now available as an affordable trade paperback. Esri Press, 2010, 124 pp., ISBN-13: 9781589482623


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